What the Collapse of the Western Wall Compromise Means for Israel, and for Zionism
For the past eighteen months, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties have succeeded in holding up the implementation of a compromise approved by the Netanyahu government that would create a mixed-sex prayer area at the Western Wall. Yesterday, ḥaredi members of the cabinet, with minimal opposition, managed to “freeze” the plan by threatening to leave the governing coalition. Yossi Klein Halevi comments:
[T]he government’s initial compromise over the Wall was a bold attempt to uphold Jewish unity while still granting Orthodox preeminence. [It] was destroyed by ḥaredi politicians for whom the unity of the Jewish people is secondary to upholding the most rigorous interpretation of Jewish law.
For all the ḥaredi accommodation to the state of Israel in recent years, the ideological argument between Zionism and the Ḥaredim remains profound. Ḥaredim are willing to risk Jewish unity to uphold what they see as the integrity of the halakhic process. Zionists see maintaining the basic and fragile unity of the Jewish people as their primary commitment—indeed the core of their Jewishness.
Zionism was never only about creating a Jewish state; it was about defining Jewish identity. Zionism’s definition is peoplehood. The noun is “Jew”; all other identities—religious and secular, Orthodox and Reform, left and right—are adjectives. In an era when the most basic consensus about Jewish identity is unraveling, Zionism’s purpose is to uphold peoplehood as the neutral binding ground of Jewishness.
From its inception, mainstream religious Zionism implicitly agreed. It reconciled its commitment to peoplehood and halakhah by emphasizing the religious imperative of peoplehood. Because Judaism is a particularist faith intended for a particular people, unlike the universal faiths of Christianity and Islam, strengthening peoplehood is a religious category, a precondition for the fulfillment of Judaism. . . .